Wednesday, August 31, 2011

North Anna, Paducah, Japan

Yoshihiko-Noda-REUT_641302tJust to cross a T from last week’s earthquake:

Dominion, the plant's operator, notified the NRC Friday that its analysis of ground shaking showed the quake could have exceeded its design parameters. An independent analysis by the government also had determined that was likely.

Oh?

But since nuclear power plants are built with margins of safety beyond the maximum expected shaking, the damage detected so far has been minimal.

Oh!

The NRC had already sent a seismic expert and a structural expert out to the facility, in addition to its inspector onsite.

Let’s keep on eye on this one and see how it shakes out.

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The Paducah (Ken.) Sun looks at both North Anna and Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun (which found itself in the middle of a swollen Missouri River during much of the summer) and notes that both came through their respective bouts with mother nature unscathed. Conclusion:

With debate growing more intense over the safety of nuclear power as part of the U.S. energy picture, these two unplanned tests of nuclear reactors are instructive. Especially in light of the March 11 earthquake in Japan that provided fodder for opponents of nuclear energy.

The performance of the nuclear plants at Fort Calhoun and North Anna demonstrates that nuclear power generation can be safe, economical and reliable.

Well, safe in these situations is the one to note and the plants did do reliably what they’re supposed to do when the ground shakes or the water rises. They’re economical all the time – it’s a gimmee in this context. We’ll take it.

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Japan's parliament has backed Yoshihiko Noda as the country's sixth prime minister in five years.

I cannot pretend to understand Japanese politics, but I think I can grasp the revolving doors at the prime minister’s residence:

An earlier agreement to raise taxes to cover welfare costs was a good start at fiscal consolidation, but the best chance for success is a stable government, Byrne added.

Japan's next leader has a mountain of challenges ahead, from battling a soaring yen and forging a post-nuclear crisis energy policy to rebuilding from the tsunami and reining in public debt, while paying for reconstruction and the bulging costs of an aging society.

The March disasters knocked the economy back into recession, and the strength of an expected rebound later this year is being clouded by weak domestic and global demand and recent gains in the yen, which threaten export competitiveness.

This story from Moodys is largely about its investor service cutting its rating on Japan’s debt. But Japanese Prime Ministers seem much more likely to throw in the towel before their terms are up than, say, American Presidents or British Prime Ministers. That leads to instability – even if the ruling party remains the same – while a new Prime Minister assembles his staff. I imagine there are a lot of people coming and going in the ministerial jobs. Although Japan does not appear to be in a political state of crisis, it makes Moodys nervous.

The BBC included this tidbit:

Unlike Mr [Naoto] Kan [the former PM], he [Noda] wants Japan's halted nuclear reactors to be restarted and has not backed his call for a nuclear-free Japan.

So there’s that. We may feel this is the best thing for Japan to do, especially as it will suffer a pretty rough winter without the reactors, but how it goes for nuclear energy in Japan will likely not be determined for some time. Kan was reacting to public opinion perhaps a little precipitously, but Noda will take account of it too – and the opinions of his ministers – and the options open to Japan in the electricity sphere.

So we can agree with Noda’s current views without necessarily expecting they will remain unchanged – or that Noda will retain his position where his predecessors did not – or without imagining that anything is settled about the future of nuclear energy in Japan.

Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Actually, I am living in Japan, the peak is summer, so no rough winter to foresee. The problem is that the halted reactors and their fossil fuels counterparts cost a lot, which is damaging the recovering economy. Hence Noda's reaction.